Thursday, August 27, 2015

A History of the English Monarchy

Welcome to the Blog Tour for Gareth Russell's new book A History of the English Monarchy: From Boadicea to Elizabeth I. Gareth has long been a friend of this blog, although we have not always seen eye-to-eye on everything, and a personal friend of mine as well. Along with being one of the most brilliant and prolific young authors I know of, he also edits the magazine Tudor Life. Visit Gareth at his blog Confessions of a Ci-Devant. I am honored to be part of Gareth's blog tour. To be included in the giveaway, please leave a comment with an email address so we can contact you if you win.

Here is a description from the publisher of the new book:
In A History of the English Monarchy, historian Gareth Russell traces the story of the English monarchy and the interactions between popular belief, religious faith and brutal political reality that helped shape the extraordinary journey of one of history’s most important institutions.
From the birth of the nation to the dazzling court of Elizabeth I, A History of the English Monarchy charts the fascinating path of the English monarchy from the uprising of ‘Warrior Queen’ Boadicea in AD60 through each king and queen up to the ‘Golden Age’ of Elizabeth I. Russell offers a fresh take on a fascinating subject as old as the nation itself. Legends, tales and, above all, hard facts tell an incredible story… a history of the English Monarchy.
I will be reviewing the book soon. In the meantime, the following is an article by Gareth, exclusive to Tea at Trianon.

A whitewashed church: A visit to the burial ground of the early Plantagenets

by Gareth Russell

While researching my last book A History of the English Monarchy: From Boadicea to Elizabeth I, I visited France to see the tombs of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard I and Henry III’s mother, Isabelle. The family feuds between Henry II, his wife and their sons had formed the basis for my third chapter, ‘From Scotland to Spain: The empire of the Plantagenets’ and their story fascinated me.

They lie today in effigy in the vast whitewashed knave of what was once the abbey church of the Fontevraud nunnery, a magnificent convent founded and expanded by Queen Eleanor’s family, where she chose to construct the early Plantagenets’ necropolis at the centre of what was then an empire that straddled both sides of the English Channel. The bright artwork, clouds of fragrant incense and kaleidoscope of splendid colour designed to tremble the knee and swell the heart is long gone. In the centuries after the region was claimed by the kings of France, Fontevraud retained its association with royalty and nobility, in what ultimately proved a costly friendship. In the seventeenth century, its abbess was a favourite of Louis XIV and ties to Versailles lasted until 1792, when the French Revolution’s hurtling mania towards enforced secularisation saw the last of the nuns, led by Abbess Julie-Gilette de Pardaillan d’Antin, take flight as the abbey was ransacked within weeks of the French monarchy itself imploding in a hail of blood, bullets and fire on the cobblestones of the Tuileries Palace courtyard.

The bright new world of de-Christianised republican France had no use for places like Fontevraud and the damage done was so extensive that even after Louis XVIII and Charles X were restored to the thrones of their forebears, the broken abbey retained the purpose assigned to it by the revolution, a prison, until 1963. To amuse themselves, the souls trapped in terrible conditions within its walls, some poor and victimised, others criminal and malign, vandalised what was left of Fontevraud’s once-splendid interiors. The misérables hacked off the nose of Richard the Lionheart’s effigy and whittled away in boredom at his carved joints.

Today his tomb is a small splash of colour alongside his mother’s, father’s and sister-in-law’s in the vast white emptiness of the disused chapel, where the grave of the abbey’s saintly founder, Robert of Arbrissel, is covered by nothing more than glass so that people can glibly walk across it. The sounds of tourists have replaced the pilgrims and the knights, the faintly discordant notes of their conversations and even their whistling echoes of the walls in place of hymns, chants and prayers. The bodies of Richard I and his relatives have long since vanished, torn from their tombs with every other set of royal bones in revolutionary France, no matter how antique. The outward shell of the tombs is all that remains. Whether it was the result of her design or vandalism after the 1790s is hard to tell, but it is amusing that the fiery Eleanor of Aquitaine’s effigy today rests a few slight but very definite inches higher than her estranged husband’s.

Emerging up the steps and into the light of the museum’s gardens, my mind fluttered to one of medieval Christianity’s sternest enjoinders – ‘Sic Gloria Transit Mundi’. (‘Thus passes all the glories of the world’.) In the end, all that remains of Queen Eleanor’s ambitions for her improbable family’s eternal memorial are four fading effigies in a defunct church. And, of course, the very faint possibility that her grave is deliberately a little higher than everybody else’s. Perhaps it is just the failed poeticism of the place, but it encourages the happy thought that through vanished magnificence a kernel of humanity, a reminder of our eternal foibles, endures.
About the Author:
Gareth Russell is an historian and writer from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He studied Modern History at the University of Oxford and completed a postgraduate in medieval history at Queen’s University, Belfast. He is the author of two novels and three non-fiction books, including his most recent book, A History of the English Monarchy: From Boadicea to Elizabeth I. He is currently writing a biography of Queen Catherine Howard.


Michelle said...

Through my many trips to England I have tried to visit as many graves of past Kings and Queens of England. Westminster Abby, St. George's chapel, and the Tower of London have all proved fruitful. Thank you for hosting another great book tour.
My email is -

mstlcmn said...

This sounds like a very interesting read and I look forward to reading the book. I adore history and especially have interest in the English Monarchy so this book will be perfect for me! Thank you so much for sharing!

Denise said...

It's a shame that such historical monuments suffered the fate,that they did. I can't imagine prisoners wandering these tombs and damaging them. This sounds like a very interesting book. Thank you for the giveaway.

Eliza said...

It's so exciting to visit places of historical significance. And in France!!

I remember feeling very moved when I visited Anne Boleyn's resting place at the Tower of London- both times back in 2010 and 2014.